George McGovern: Foremost Historian of the Most Violent Labor Conflict in American History

Historians in the News

Peter Roper, in the Miami Herald (April 13, 2004):

George McGovern was a doctoral candidate at Northwestern University in 1950, looking for a thesis topic in American history, when one of his mentors, professor Arthur Link, asked McGovern if he'd ever heard of the violent coalfield war in Colorado that shook the steel industry and the nation in 1913-14.

"Link had written a biography of President Woodrow Wilson and had become intrigued by the fact that Wilson had to send U.S. troops to Southern Colorado in 1914 to stop the fighting," McGovern explained Monday in a telephone interview from his home in Mitchell, S.D. "I didn't know it at the time, but I was starting out to research and document the most hard-fought and violent labor struggle in American history."

McGovern, 81, is famous for his political career as a liberal Democrat from South Dakota who took a beating in the 1972 presidential election from incumbent Republican Richard Nixon. In fact, his name became synonymous with liberalism in American politics.

What many people don't know about him is that McGovern is probably the foremost historian of the violent battle between the CF&I steel corporation and its striking coal miners that resulted in the Ludlow "massacre" on April 20, 1914.

"My family and I moved to Denver for four months in 1950 so I could start my research and interview survivors of the strike," McGovern said.

Three years later, the doctoral thesis was complete and was eventually published by Houghton Mifflin in 1972 as "The Great Coalfield War." Writer Leonard F. Guttridge helped translate McGovern's scholarly research into a more readable history.

"I do believe it is the definitive work on the coal strike and Ludlow," McGovern said.

McGovern will talk about the strike and his book as the guest speaker for the Bessemer Historical Society's annual fund-raising banquet on April 22. The banquet will be held in the Occhiato Center at Colorado State University-Pueblo, with a cocktail reception starting at 5:30 p.m. Proceeds from the banquet will go toward the preservation of the CF&I's archives, buildings and artifacts.

comments powered by Disqus